Down and Among the Sticks and Stones by Seanan McGuire is a prequel to Every Heart A Doorway, which I loved, however it is definitely the weaker novel and suffers quite a bit in comparison. I wanted to like this book, but I just didn’t.
This book follows Jack and Jill, who were secondary characters in EHAD, and tells the story of how they found their doorway and what lay behind it. They travelled to a fairy world that inspired Victorian monster novels, a place where villagers huddle behind tall walls and vampires ‘protect’ them from the monsters on the fens and the old gods in the seas. A place where lone mad scientists struggle to bring order to chaos. Jack and Jill, who have been put into archetypal roles by their parents, and as actual people those roles don’t fit very well, see the opportunity of this world to remake themselves. They do not emerge unscathed.
My first issue with the story is the writing. There is a lot, a lot, of telling. McGuire uses a narration style that she doesn’t normally use and it falls flat for me. We’re TOLD that Jill wants to wear dresses instead of the tomboy archetype her parents force her into, we’re never shown it. In general, it is a heavy handed novel, and because it’s so heavy handed you can miss some of the more subtle things that McGuire is trying to do.
My second issue is that there’s a fairly large plot hole, and it makes larger a plot hole from Every Heart a Doorway. This is quite spoilery so warning. There is no motivation for Jack to rescue her sister after Jill kills Jack’s lover, and so it feels like Jack’s actions come out of nowhere. I think this could have been fixed if we’d spent more time with the sisters in this horror world, not to see how they develop, but to see how their bond as twins survives. As it is, it feels as though that bond had been severed completely when Jack walks out with the mad scientist and leaves Jill with the vampire. And, it heightens the fact that Jack should have known what was going on at Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children in EHAD. I remember thinking this when I read the end of that book, and that particular plot hole is only widened with the enlarged backstory of Jack and Jill.
It’s a fine book, but I was hoping that it would be much better.